On May 4th, 1886, a rally of anarchists and labor activists in Chicago's Haymarket Square turned deadly. An unknown assailant tossed a bomb into a throng of riot police, killing one instantly. In the chaos that erupted, seven policemen were killed, sixty injured, and civilian casualties were likely as high. The event marked the anarchist movement as violent and made Chicago world-famous as a hotspot of labor conflict.
Eight men were arrested and charged with murder at Haymarket. Though they all opposed Chicago's elite businessmen, whom they believed stood for "starvation of the masses, privileges and luxury for the few," the eight held very different ideas about what action to take. Some advocated change through violence, while others believed progress could come via social engineering. Despite their different beliefs, the trial, convictions and sentencing that followed would unite these "Haymarket Eight" in history.
August Spies was born in Germany and emigrated to Chicago in 1872. A leading member of the International Working People's Association, he edited the German-lang uage anarchist paper Arbeiter-Zeitung. Spies was a brilliant writer, in both German and English. On May 1, 1886, several days before the rally at Haymarket, Spies led a parade of 80,000 workers up Michigan Avenue as part of the national strike for an eight-hour work day.
Spies was the first speaker at the Haymarket rally and left before its fiery conclusion. He was convicted with the other seven accused, and hanged in 1887. His final words inspired unionists and anarchists alike: "The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today."
Albert Parsons, a former Confederate soldier who moved to Chicago in 1873, worked as a typesetter for the Chicago Tribune before being fired for speaking against capitalism. After that, he worked as a printer, primarily for radical and labor causes. He was a member of the moderate Knights of Labor organization and a founding member of the syndicalist Central Labor Union. Parsons counted August Spies as a close ally, and edited the English language counterpart to Arbeiter-Zeitung, The Alarm.
Spies recruited him at the last minute to speak at the Haymarket rally. Parsons addressed the crowd for nearly an hour and left before the bomb exploded. He fled Chicago after arrests were made for the bombing, but returned voluntarily for trial. He was hanged in 1887, declaring in his final words, "Let the voice of the people be heard!"
George Engel was born in Germany and relocated to Chicago in 1874. An unwavering critic of authority and capitalism, Engel lost faith in the political process and joined the International Working People's Association. "Can anyone feel any respect for a government that accords rights only to the privileged classes, and none to the workers?" he once wrote.
Engel was at home playing cards at the time of the explosion. He was convicted and hanged in 1887.
Adolph Fischer was born in Germany and moved to Chicago in 1883. An extreme anarchist, Fischer worked as typesetter for the Arbeiter-Zeitung and co-edited the journal, Der Anarchist. He supervised the printing of the broadside announcing the Haymarket rally and inserted the line, "Workingmen Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force." August Spies convinced Fischer to remove the line.
Fischer attended the Haymarket rally but departed before the ending events. He was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. His last words before execution were, "Hurray for Anarchy! This is the happiest moment of my life!"
Louis Lingg was born in Germany and emigrated to Chicago in 1885, drawn to its strong anarchy movement. Lingg was an organizer for Chicago's Carpenters' Union and a representing delegate for the Central Labor Union.
Lingg bristled at the violence used by police during labor conflicts and stated, "if they use cannons against us, we shall use dynamite against them." He regularly practiced with a rifle and learned how to create dynamite and assemble bombs. Lingg used this skill to commit suicide in jail by detonating a bomb in his mouth, the day before his scheduled execution. He died some days later.
Michael Schwab was born in Germany and came to Chicago in 1881 or 1882. He once wrote, "Violence is one thing and Anarchy is another... we advocated the use of violence against violence, but against violence only, as a necessary means of defense."
Schwab attended the Haymarket rally briefly, but left to speak at another rally. Still, he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. He served seven years before Governor John Peter Altgeld commuted his sentence in 1893.
Born in New York and raised in Germany, Oscar Neebe came to Chicago in 1875. A declared communist, Neebe organized labor demonstrations and anarchist social events in the Chicago area.
An avid reader, Neebe once wrote, "We socialists are great believers that the laboring men should educate themselves." Neebe did not attend the Haymarket rally. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. In his autobiography, Neebe wrote of his suspicion that a brewing company whose workers he had organized paid officials to secure his conviction. Governor Altgeld pardoned and released Neebe in 1893, after he had served seven years of his sentence.
Samuel Fielden was born in England and settled in Chicago in 1871. He joined the International Working People's Association in 1884 and became a popular speaker, using orating skills he had developed in the Methodist church.
Fielden was the final speaker at the Haymarket Rally. When Police Captain Bonfield advanced with his troops to bring an end to the rally, Fielden briefly protested before he stepped down from the makeshift stage. At the same time, the bomb was thrown. Fielden was wounded in the knee during the chaos that followed. He was arrested and sentenced to death. Following an appeal for clemency, Governor Oglesby reduced the sentence to life in prison. In 1893 Governor Altgeld absolved Fielden and he was released.